On Tuesday it was reported by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic that Rick Brunson stepped down from his position as an assistant coach on Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
What’s noteworthy about the resignation are the circumstances surrounding it, as according to reports Brunson has been accused of multiple incidents of improper conduct towards women during his time as a Timberwolves assistant with the most recent incident alleged to have occurred during the postseason.
What makes Rick Brunson’s situation one that’s connected to college basketball is that allegations of sexual assault kept him from joining the Temple coaching staff in 2014.
In the summer of 2014 Brunson was set to join Fran Dunphy’s coaching staff at Temple, his alma mater, and with son Jalen still working through the recruiting process that was viewed as a move that would help the Owls land the highly regarded point guard. However Rick Brunson would not return to his alma mater, as he faced multiple charges in relation to an alleged sexual assault at a suburban Chicago fitness center.
The younger Brunson would go on to accomplish a great deal at Villanova, playing on two national championship-winning teams, winning multiple national Player of the Year awards this past season and graduating in three years. Jalen Brunson has decided to forego his final season of eligibility and enter the 2018 NBA Draft, an understandable move given how much he accomplished while at Villanova.
Temple, on the other hand, has not experienced similar fortunes since 2015. After winning 21 games and reaching the NCAA tournament in 2016, Temple has won 17 and 16 games in each of the last two seasons and missed out on the Big Dance both years. That’s led to a change being made at the top of the program, with assistant and Temple alum Aaron McKie set to replace Fran Dunphy as head coach after the 2018-19 season.
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — The venue, and its deafening noise, was different, but the result was the same for Villanova. The fourth-ranked Wildcats rolled past yet another Philadelphia opponent.
Jalen Brunson had 17 points to lead five players in double figures as Villanova routed Penn 90-62 on Wednesday night.
Omari Spellman, Mikal Bridges and Phil Bridges added 14 points apiece and Donte DiVincenzo scored 12 for the Wildcats (7-0), who remained undefeated while winning their 19th in a row against Philadelphia Big 5 rivals.
“I don’t like thinking about it,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the streak. “We know if you don’t bring it, you’re going to get beat. We never lose respect for those teams.”
The Big 5 also includes Temple, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s.
“They have a degree of confidence in themselves and each other,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “All of us (Big 5 coaches) are motivated to reach the bar Jay has set. I do feel we want to end that streak.”
The famed Philadelphia City Series started in 1956, but Wednesday’s game was the first to be played at Jake Nevin Field House. It became the 10th venue for a Big 5 contest, most of which have been held at The Palestra.
A bandbox gym on Villanova’s campus that seats 2,220, Nevin — known as the “Cat House” in its heyday — last hosted a Wildcats game on Jan. 4, 1986. Villanova is playing most of its home games this season at Wells Fargo Center, home court of the 76ers, while its regular on-campus arena gets a makeover.
It was noticeable immediately that with fans practically right on top of the court and a building well-built for acoustics, that it was going to be noisy — really noisy.
“It was a wild atmosphere,” Wright said. “You can’t hear anything. It’s a difficult place to play for everybody, including the home team.”
Brunson gave up on trying to listen to Wright calling plays.
“I tried reading his lips,” Brunson said.
And Spellman said he had to ask Bridges “50 times” the play.
Villanova shot an efficient 57 percent in the opening half to take a 46-28 lead. Nine Wildcats scored in the opening 20 minutes, led by Spellman’s 10 points.
The Wildcats were in total control after halftime and the advantage reached as much as 74-47 on Bridges’ fastbreak dunk with 8:38 remaining.
Villanova finished shooting 57 percent from the field, including 50 percent from beyond the arc.
AJ Brodeur paced Penn with 15 points and Darnell Foreman had 13 for the Quakers (5-4).
Donahue wasn’t displeased with Penn’s effort, instead crediting the Wildcats for their typically strong performance.
“They’re such a good, disciplined, tough team,” he said. “There’s never a team I’ve played against that’s smarter, tougher and more unselfish.”
HONORS ALL AROUND
Villanova also honored the late Rollie Massimino as 21 members of the former coach’s family were on hand.
Also introduced to the crowd were many former Wildcats who played at Nevin Field House.
The Wildcats have won 27 straight games in November.
The victory was Villanova’s 15th straight against Penn.
MEAL TICKETS NEEDED
A mistake by Wright with the pregame schedule forced the Wildcats to go to the school’s cafeteria for their pregame meal rather than in their regular, private location.
Penn: The Quakers are tuning up for the start of the Ivy League season, which begins for them Jan. 5 against archrival Princeton.
Villanova: The Wildcats will look to continue their dominance of the Philadelphia rivals on Saturday at Saint Joseph’s. They’ll host La Salle at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 10 and finish the Big 5 at Temple on Dec. 13.
1. Villanova looks to replace three starters and remain atop the conference: With the end of the 2016-17 season came the end of three collegiate careers, with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds all out of eligibility. All three provided key intangibles for Villanova, with Hart and Jenkins also being two of the team’s top three scorers from a season ago. The question: how will the Wildcats account for those losses, with regards to both production and leadership?
There will be some adjustments to make, but simply put the pieces are there for Villanova to remain atop the Big East. Jalen Brunson, one of the nation’s best point guards, is back for his junior season as are wing Mikal Bridges and forward Eric Paschall. Sophomore guard Donte DiVencenzo, who earned a spot on the Big East’s All-Freshman team and was also the Big 5 Newcomer of the Year, is back for his sophomore season, and Phil Booth is healthy after sitting out most of last season with a knee injury.
Add in freshmen Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree inside, and Jermaine Samuels Jr. on the wing, and Villanova will not lack for talent. And in Spellman, who sat out last season, they have a big who can get them points on the block on a consistent basis. For that reason this team will be different from last year’s group, which may make the Wildcats even tougher to defend.
2. Seton Hall, Xavier and Providence are all worthy challengers: Due to its track record and combination of returnees and newcomers, Villanova has earned the right to be preseason favorites. But this season may provide the best group of challengers to the throne since the reconfiguration of the Big East.
Xavier brings back an experienced group led by an All-America candidate in senior forward Trevon Bluiett, and the experience gained by Quentin Goodin as a result of Edmond Sumner’s injury could pay off for the sophomore in 2017-18. Add in a talented freshman class led by wing Paul Scruggs, and grad transfer Kerem Kanter, and it would not be a surprise if Chris Mack’s Musketeers won the Big East.
A similar argument could be made for Seton Hall, as Kevin Willard has a squad led by four tough, talented seniors. Angel Delgado is the nation’s best rebounder, a big man who was near automatic when it came to racking up double-doubles last season. Wing Desi Rodriguez can get hot offensively on a moment’s notice, and forward Ismael Sanogo deserves more respect nationally for his abilities as a defender. The key for the Pirates: how Khadeen Carrington, a talented guard who can make plays off the bounce as well as hit perimeter shots, adjusts to the shift to the point. If he handles it well, Seton Hall can be a major factor.
As for Providence, Ed Cooley has a senior point guard in Kyron Cartwright to trust with the offense. Cartwright averaged nearly seven assists per game last season, and that number could be even higher given the improvements made by the other options on the roster. Rodney Bullock has the potential to be an all-conference player if he becomes more efficient offensively, and forward Alpha Diallo appears poised to take a significant step forward. Makai Ashton-Langford is one of the key pieces in a good recruiting class, but the key may be the health of senior big man Emmitt Holt.
Holt’s been dealing with an abdominal issue during the preseason, and if he’s limited even more will be asked of freshmen Nate Watson and Dajour Dickens.
3. The conference’s “midsection” should be improved: Given the fact that seven teams reached the NCAA tournament last season, this may feel like a weird thing to read. But with the combination of newcomers and returnees at many of the Big East schools that populated the middle portion of the standings last season, those matchups are going to be even tougher this season.
Creighton welcomes back guards Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, and they’ll add a transfer at the point in former Syracuse guard Kaleb Joseph. The key for Joseph will be to regain the confidence that he seemingly lost during his two seasons at Syracuse, but the combination of sitting out a year and being in a system that gives guys the freedom to make plays should help.
Marquette, which won 19 games and reached the NCAA tournament last season, has a very good perimeter tandem in Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard, with the latter being one of the best shooters in the country as a freshman. The question mark for the Golden Eagles is how productive their big men will be, with SMU transfer Harry Froling set to join the likes of junior Matt Heldt and freshman Theo John in December.
Butler will be led by senior forward Kelan Martin, sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin and a new head coach in LaVall Jordan (more on the Bulldogs below), and St. John’s may be the ultimate “wild card.” Guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett Jr. return, and the additions of transfers Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon will help immensely. If the pieces mesh, Chris Mullin has a roster that could turn heads in the Big East.
4. LaVall Jordan looks to build upon the “Butler Way”: While the Brad Stevens era was critical with regards to the growth of the Butler basketball program, which reached the national title game two consecutive years and moved from the Horizon League to the Big East, the “Butler Way” began well before that point. Among those who played a role in the success is LaVall Jordan, who played on three NCAA tournament teams between 1998 and 2001 for Barry Collier and Thad Matta.
After brief stay at Milwaukee that was preceded by a six-year stint on John Beilein’s staff at Michigan, Jordan has returned to his alma mater to fill the vacancy left by Chris Holtmann’s move to Ohio State. Jordan won’t be operating with an empty cupboard either, as Kelan Martin (16.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Kamar Baldwin (10.1, 3.7) return from a team that won 25 games a season ago. Butler did lose three starters from that team, most notably forward Andrew Chrabascz, but do not expect this program to simply fall off of a cliff.
5. Patrick Ewing, arguably the most important player in Big East history, makes his return to Georgetown: To say that Ewing was “arguably” the most important player in league history may be an understatement; as the crown jewel of a 1981 class that included the likes of Chris Mullin (St. John’s) and Villanova’s “Expansion Crew,” Ewing helped usher in an era of dominance for the Big East in the 1980’s. The Georgetown teams he led were both feared and respected, and with his return to The Hilltop as head coach the goal is the bring back those glory years.
Ewing, in his first head coaching job after spending well over a decade as an assistant in the NBA, has some talent to work with inside as Marcus Derrickson (8.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Jesse Govan (10.1, 5.0) both return. But there are a lot of holes to fill on this roster, especially on the perimeter with the losses of Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak. Look for freshman wing JaMarko Pickett to get plenty of opportunities in his debut season, one that could be difficult for the Hoyas once they begin conference play.
PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Only one player in college basketball (Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan) had more double-doubles than Delgado last season. The senior big man averaged 15.2 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, shooting 54.3 percent from the field. On a team expected to contend in the Big East, Delgado will once again be a focal point for the Pirates. And if he can improve on the turnover count (3.0 tpg last season) Delgado will be even tougher to slow down.
THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM
Jalen Brunson, Villanova: One of the best point guards in college basketball, Brunson will have more leadership responsibilities on his plate in 2017-18.
Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster’s first season in a Creighton uniform was a productive one, as he averaged 18.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Trevon Blueitt, Xavier: Bluiett should be heard from with regards to both Big East Player of the Year and All-America honors. Last season he averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
Rodney Bullock, Providence: Butler’s Kelan Martin would be a solid choice here as well, but if he can be a more efficient player offensively Bullock will have a good shot at a first team spot as well.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
Kelan Martin, Butler
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Marcus LoVett Jr. and Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
Khyri Thomas, Creighton
BREAKOUT STAR: Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova
DiVincenzo is the biggest reason that I’m not that worried about Villanova trying to replace Josh Hart this season. I don’t know that he turns into the player Hart was this year, but he’s already proven that he had the ability to be an explosive scorer – he reached double-figures 14 times and scored at least 19 points four times coming off the bench – and he has the kind of toughness and defensive intelligence that he fit in with Villanova seamlessly on that end of the floor as well.
The only real concern about having DiVincenzo on this list is how good Villanova will be. They’re quite deep on the perimeter and return Phil Booth from injury. He could end up being a much-improved player with a markedly better season and end up with numbers that don’t look all that dissimilar from this season’s.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Chris Mullin, St. John’s
With John Thompson III being replaced at Georgetown during the spring, there really isn’t a coach in the Big East that’s truly on the proverbial hot seat. The pick here is Mullin, whose teams have improved in the win column in each of the last two seasons. So why Mullin? Because with the talent on this season’s roster, expecting the Red Storm to at the very least challenge for an NCAA tournament berth would be reasonable.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
Four teams have credible hopes of reaching the Final Four.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT
the impact that Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II can have for St. John’s. The Red Storm can be an NCAA tournament team this year.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
November 13, Minnesota at Providence
November 22-24, Villanova at Paradise Jam
November 28, Baylor at Xavier
December 3, Seton Hall at Louisville
December 5, Gonzaga vs. Villanova (in New York City)
1. Villanova: The Wildcats are once again favored to win the Big East, thanks to the combination of newcomers and returnees. The return of Phil Booth, and the additions of Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, will certainly help matters for Jay Wright’s team.
2. Seton Hall: With four senior starters, the Pirates are one of the most experienced teams in college basketball. And if new point guard Khadeen Carrington can balance scoring with getting other guys the ball in good spots, look out.
3. Xavier: Trevon Bluiett will once again lead the way, with J.P. Macura being another senior capable of making an impact on a game. If the talented recruiting class, led by Paul Scruggs, is ready and Quentin Goodin takes another step forward the Musketeers can win the league.
4. Providence: In Kyron Cartwright the Friars have a special point guard. He’s surrounded with talented offensive option, including Rodney Bullock, and the arrival of Makai Ashton-Langford should give Cartwright the occasional respite. The Friars will certainly be head from this season as they look to make a 5th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
5. Creighton: In Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas the Bluejays have one of the top perimeter tandems in the country, much less the Big East. If Kaleb Joseph is ready to run the show at the point, Creighton is capable of contending.
6. Marquette: With Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard among the returnees, it’s known that Steve Wojciechowski’s team can put points on the board. But can they be more effective defensively? If so, the Golden Eagles should make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
7. St. John’s: The Red Storm are the “wild card” in this race. With the additions of Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II, St. John’s has the talent needed to make waves in the Big East race. But will this be a cohesive unit when the games truly matter?
8. Butler: LaVall Jordan has some talent to work with in his first season leading his alma mater, including guard Kamar Baldwin and forward Kelan Martin. What may make things more difficult for Butler are the loss of three starters and the improvements made by other teams in the league.
9. DePaul: Will the Blue Demons escape the Big East cellar for the second time in the last three seasons? Yes, thanks to the return of Eli Cain and the additions of Austin Grandstaff and Max Strus.
10. Georgetown: Patrick Ewing’s return as head coach will be a difficult one, given the strength of the Big East and his team’s lack of perimeter shooters. That being said, having Jesse Govan and Marcus Derrickson back in the front court should help matters.
LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 20 Duke wins at UNC, No. 3 Oklahoma falls
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 20 Duke 74, No. 5 North Carolina 73
Duke, already shorthanded, lost Matt Jones in the first half to a left ankle injury and they couldn’t slow down Brice Johnson either. But they continued to fight, ultimately winning on two Grayson Allen free throws with 1:09 remaining. To say the least North Carolina’s execution down the stretch left much to be desired, as Johnson’s last shot attempt came with just under five minutes left in the game. He finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds, while Allen led Duke with 23 points and seven boards and Brandon Ingram added 20 and ten.
Penn State 79, No. 4 Iowa 75: Within a two-week period the Nittany Lions have knocked off two of the three teams tied atop the Big Ten standings in the loss column (No. 22 Indiana being the other). Donovon Jack scored 19 points and Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner 18 each for the Nittany Lions, who won despite Peter Jok scoring 28 points and Jarrod Uthoff 19.
Saint Joseph’s 79, No. 15 Dayton 70: Phil Martelli’s Hawks picked up a big win, as they ended Dayton’s nine-game win streak to force a three-way tie atop the Atlantic 10. DeAndré Bembry led five Hawks in double figures with 16 points while also grabbing 13 rebounds, and it was the combination of their offensive balance and solid defense that won the game for Saint Joseph’s.
Texas Tech 65, No. 3 Oklahoma 63: The Red Raiders picked up their third straight win over a ranked opponent, holding off the Sooners in Lubbock. Aaron Ross scored 17 points and Keenan Evans 14 for the Red Raiders, who limited Buddy Hield to 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting. Jordan Woodard led Oklahoma with 25 points, but with everyone else struggling it wasn’t enough.
No. 8 Xavier 85, No. 23 Providence 74: The Friars lost for the fourth time in their last five games Wednesday, falling by nine in a game that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. Myles Davis posted his first career triple-double (11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists), Trevon Bluiett scored 23 points and Jalen Reynolds went for ten and 15 boards. Kris Dunn led the Friars with 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but he also turned the ball over seven times on the night.
Retin Obasohan, Alabama: 35 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Crimson Tide’s win at LSU, shooting 11-for-18 from the field and 11-for-11 from the foul line.
Myles Davis, Xavier: Davis posted a triple-double, going for 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to lead the Musketeers to a comfortable win over No. 23 Providence.
Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds. Why he didn’t get more touches down the stretch in their loss to No. 20 Duke is something that will be discussed for quite some time.
Eli Carter, Boston College: Carter had a miserable night at Clemson, shooting 1-for-17 from the field in the 64-55 loss. He finished with five points and six assists.
Marcus Paige and Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Paige and Berry combined to shoot 4-for-22 from the field in their loss to No. 20 Duke.
Starters not named Khristian Smith, Indiana State: Smith shot 5-for-12 from the field and scored 14 points in the Sycamores’ 78-50 loss at Illinois State. The other four starters combined to score ten points on 3-for-25 shooting.
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
Top-ranked Villanova won for the 15th time in their last 16 games, as they beat Temple 83-67 at the Liacouras Center. Jalen Brunson, whose father played at Temple, scored 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field as the Wildcats won the Big 5 title outright.
No. 11 Miami got going in the second half as they beat Virginia Tech 65-49. Jim Larrañaga’s Hurricanes outscored the Hokies 44-27 in the second half.
No. 12 Arizona steamrolled rival Arizona State, beating the Sun Devils 99-61 in Tucson. Allonzo Trier scored 20 points, and the Wildcats scored 52 points in the paint.
No. 18 Louisville rebounded from a slow start and blitzed Syracuse in the second half, beating the Orange 72-58. Damion Lee scored 15 points and Chinanu Onuaku added 13 points and 15 boards for the Cardinals.
No. 22 Indiana rebounded from its loss at Michigan State by taking care of business at home, beating Nebraska 80-64. Troy Williams led four Hoosiers in double figures with 18 points on the night.
OTHER NOTABLE OUTCOMES
Clemson, which is looking to play its way back into the NCAA tournament discussion, avoided a bad loss by beating Boston College 64-55.
St. Bonaventure’s hopes of getting into the bubble conversation took a major hit, as they lost 71-64 at La Salle. The Bonnies are now two games out of first in the Atlantic 10 as a result of this loss.
Stony Brook’s 18-game win streak came to an end as they were beaten soundly at Albany, 82-70. The Great Danes sent double teams at Jameel Warney all night long, which helped them limit the Seawolves to less than 40 percent shooting.
Bucknell retained sole possession of first place in the Patriot League with an 87-52 win over Loyola (MD). Trailing the Bison by a game are Lehigh, which beat Navy 77-74 on the road, and Boston University (71-68 win over Colgate).
Seton Hall continued its run towards an NCAA tournament bid with a 72-64 win over Georgetown. Isaiah Whitehead scored 22 points, Khadeen Carrington 18 and Desi Rodriguez 17 for the Pirates.
Alabama picked up a nice win on the road, as they beat LSU 76-69. Retin Obasohan, who’s been one of the best guards in the SEC this season, scored a career-high 35 in the win.
Chris Mullin picked up his first conference win as head coach at St. John’s, as the Red Storm beat DePaul 80-65. The Red Storm had lost 16 straight games before tonight.
Trailing by 15 with 6:01 remaining, New Mexico close the game on a 19-2 run as they beat Boise State 80-78. Elijah Brown scored 26 points and Tim Williams 18 for the Lobos, who are now in sole possession of second place in the Mountain West.
USC came back from a 15-point deficit to beat Colorado 79-72, moving to 15-0 at the Galen Center this season. Julian Jacobs, who sparked the run, scored 17 points and Jordan McLaughlin finished with 25 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Hot-shooting No. 3 Villanova takes down Creighton 83-58
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Kris Jenkins scored 22 points, Jalen Brunson had 16 and No. 3 Villanova rolled past Creighton 83-58 on Wednesday night.
Josh Hart added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (19-3, 9-1 Big East), who have won 11 of 12. With senior center Daniel Ochefu missing his second straight game with a concussion, Villanova relied on its pinpoint outside shooting. The Wildcats shot 16 for 29 (55 percent) from 3-point range with Brunson and Jenkins each shooting 4 for 6.
On the hunt for their third straight Big East title, Villanova remained a game up on Xavier for first place.
Playing just outside his native Philadelphia, Maurice Watson Jr. led Creighton (14-9, 5-5) with 16 points and five assists. The Bluejays have lost three straight for the first time this season.
The 16 3s were the most Creighton has ever given up and the most Villanova has made this season.
Creighton, the league’s top shooting team, attempted 25 3-pointers but only made eight against the Wildcats, who own the conference’s top-ranked defense.
After Creighton opened a four-point lead midway through the first half on consecutive 3-pointers from Watson and Toby Hegner, Villanova reeled off the next 10 points to take the lead for good. The Wildcats closed the half on a 13-4 run to go up 45-32. The spurt was highlighted by five points apiece from Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges.
The Wildcats went ahead 60-38 with 15 minutes left. They led by as many as 31 points and closed the game on a 63-34 run.
Booth added 10 points for Villanova and Ryan Arcidiacono and Bridges chipped in nine apiece.
Creighton center Geoffrey Groselle didn’t start because of an ankle injury but came off the bench and scored six points.
Creighton: The Bluejays have lost four straight to Villanova but their last win over the Wildcats was a memorable one as they eclipsed 100 points in a 101-80 triumph on Feb. 16, 2014. . Creighton dropped to 22-131 all-time against nationally ranked opponents, including a 1-5 mark this season. The Bluejays have never beaten a team ranked in the top three.
Villanova: The Wildcats have won 37 straight games at the Pavilion, its campus gym. . Villanova made all 12 of its free throws in the first half. . Villanova’s all-time leading scorer, Kerry Kittles, was sitting courtside for the game.
Creighton: Hosts DePaul on Saturday
Villanova: Visits No. 11 Providence on Saturday
This version corrects that the 16 3s were the most Villanova made this season.
TEN NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: Here are the ten best freshmen in the sport.
1. Ben Simmons, LSU: A native of Australia, Simmons has been getting huge national buzz already as a potential Player of the Year candidate this preseason. As one of college basketball’s most versatile players this season, Simmons has a chance to put up regular triple-doubles while leading LSU to a bunch of wins. The 6-foot-10 Simmons can rebound, handle the ball in the open floor and pass with elite vision. If there’s any part of his game that remains a question mark, it’s his perimeter jumper — which has always been workable but inconsistent.
2. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky: Perhaps the most talented freshman of this class, the 6-foot-11 Labissiere has a ton of upside and could dominate stretches on both ends of the floor this season. A native of Haiti, Labissiere can defend the rim and rebound and he’s also a dynamic offensive threat who can score from a number of positions on the floor. When Kentucky’s guards run high ball screens with Labissiere this season, he should have the ability to score rolling to the basket or finding space for his jumper. Handling the strength of older and more experienced opposing big men might be Labissiere’s biggest obstacle this season.
3. Jamal Murray, Kentucky: If Labissiere is Kentucky’s most talented freshman, then Murray could be the most productive this season. The Canadian guard looked like a potential superstar during portions of this summer in the Pan-Am Games, especially when he went for 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime alone against the United States. At 6-foot-5, Murray has great size for a lead guard and his pull-up jumper is deadly. His vision is also solid and he spend the summer playing with and against professionals and top college players in high-stakes international settings. If Murray finds good balance within Kentucky’s deep perimeter attack, he could have a huge year.
4. Brandon Ingram, Duke: Duke was able to keep Ingram from leaving the state of North Carolina and they’re hoping the Kinston native can be their next superstar wing forward. Ingram won’t be nearly as physically developed as players like Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow as freshmen, but he’s got an offensive arsenal that more than makes up for it. At 6-foot-9, Ingram can spray jumpers from nearly anywhere on the floor and he has the mentality of a cold-blooded scorer. With an advanced pull-up game and improving toughness going to the rim, Ingram became a three-level scorer later in his high school career. If his frail body can handle the day-to-day rigors of college basketball, Ingram will have a big year.
5. Jaylen Brown, Cal: It was a surprising commitment when the 6-foot-6 Brown decided to leave Georgia and head out west, but the Golden Bears are happy to put him on the floor immediately. A big and physical wing who can attack the basket or the glass, Brown improved his perimeter jumper and handle as high school went along. A gifted scorer, Brown is a load to handle in the open floor with a full head of steam and he’s the type of player who could have some poster dunks this season thanks to his brute strength at the rim. If the perimeter jumper is consistently going down, Brown is going to be a force.
6. Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Underrated nationally coming into the season after missing the senior all-star games with injury, Ellenson is a new-breed big man who has open-floor skill and an ability to space the floor. The Wisconsin native stayed home to play with his brother Wally at Marquette and now the Golden Eagles have a 6-foot-10 freshman who can handle like a guard and hit 3-pointers to stretch the floor. With Ellenson teaming with junior big man Luke Fischer, Marquette instantly has one of the most intriguing front courts in America entering the season and Ellenson’s skill level makes him a tough cover.
7. Cheick Diallo, Kansas: If the NCAA deems him eligible, Kansas will get a gigantic lift from the high-motor big man. A star during the senior all-star circuit this spring, Diallo rebounds and defends the rim with the best of them and he’s also improving as an offensive player. At his best in transition, the 6-foot-9 Diallo runs the floor like a guard and has the length around the rim to erase shots that many others couldn’t get to. Diallo’s warrior-like mentality should help raise the level of play for the Jayhawks when he’s on the floor. The question is: when will that be?
8. Malik Newman, Mississippi State: Ben Howland is going to put the ball in Newman’s hands right away and the pressure will be on the in-state guard to immediately produce. A natural scorer with deep range on his pull-up jumper, the 6-foot-3 Newman can go on silly scoring runs where he’s pulling up 3-pointers and nailing them in consecutive possessions like Kevin Durant at Rucker Park. Although his efficiency and ability to be a high-level point guard will come into question at times this season, Newman will be one of the best freshman scorers in college basketball.
9. Diamond Stone, Maryland: How happy is Melo Trimble to have a post scorer like Stone entering College Park? The native of Wisconsin is a load to handle on the interior as a post scorer, as he showed moves going over both shoulders in high school. Also a candidate to knock home a 3-pointer when he’s a trailer on a break, Stone can fall in love with his jumper a bit too much, but now he has a ton of talent around him to help him settle into the post. The 6-foot-10 center has good hands, is a productive rebounder and should be a tough cover with Robert Carter also being a post option for the Terps.
10. Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV: Runnin’ Rebels fans are thrilled to keep Zimmerman home and the 6-foot-11 lefty is skilled enough to make an immediate impact. The product of local powerhouse Bishop Gorman is an advanced passer for a big man and he’s also shown an ability to score in a variety of ways. Also a good rebounder and communicator as a back-line defender, Zimmerman’s leadership qualities could be an underrated aspect of him joining the UNLV program. The pressure will be on Zimmerman to help lead UNLV back to the NCAA tournament, but he’s built for the challenge.
FIVE POTENTIAL D’ANGELO RUSSELLS: Here are five guys outside the top ten that could play their way onto an all-american team come the spring
1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: The son of former NBA veteran Rick Brunson, Jalen was tremendous as the starting point guard of the USA U19 World Championship team and went 40 minutes without a turnover in the gold-medal game to help secure MVP honors. The 6-foot-2 lefty has a tremendous basketball IQ and can hit pull-up jumpers from everywhere.
2. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: An impressive scorer who regularly put up 40-point games in high school, Dorsey will be asked to help replace Joseph Young. The 6-foot-4 Dorsey’s ability to hit jumpers and get to the basket should immediately translate to the college level.
3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Now that he’s been cleared by the NCAA, the 6-foot-9 Swanigan can focus on being a bruising force alongside centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. Swanigan is rugged and physical, but he’s also more skilled than he appears.
4. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: One of the most physically-ready freshmen entering college basketball, the 6-foot-6 wing had a tremendous senior season and should be able to help the Seminoles in the scoring column. Bacon’s athleticism is top notch and he should have some highlights this season.
5. Allonzo Trier, Arizona: With freshman Ray Smith Jr. going down to injury, the 6-foot-3 Trier could be asked to play more minutes for the Wildcats. The Nike EYBL’s first four-year player, Trier is experienced in big games at the high school level and should be an immediate contributor.
MARCH HEROES?: Here are five freshman that could play a big role come March.
1. Jalen Adams, UConn: Kevin Ollie has a ton of perimeter options this season, but the speed of the 6-foot-1 Adams will make him a great change-of-pace guard off the bench in the early season.
2. Aaron Holiday, UCLA: The younger brother of former Bruin Jrue Holiday, Aaron is already starting alongside Bryce Alford this preseason and he’s showed positive signs on the defensive end with his activity.
3. Carlton Bragg, Kansas: The 6-foot-9 Bragg is skilled as a shooter and also physically gifted enough to rebound and score in the post. If Cheick Diallo is not cleared to play, Bragg’s role could expand even further.
4. Ryan Cline, Purdue: In desperate need of perimeter shooting, the Boilers kept this 6-foot-5 sharpshooter in the state of Indiana and he should help the spacing around Purdue’s talented big men.
5. Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Likely to start in the middle for Indiana, the 6-foot-10 Bryant brings a lot of energy and tenacity to the interior. The Hoosiers will count on Bryant to rebound and defend the rim early as his offense continues to grow.